> [the syndrome causes problems] following the effective initial establishment of the project
This is easy to accept in theory. In practice, there is rarely a specific event or milestone that determines the “effective initial establishment of the project” (after which, according the the wiki article, Founderitis turns from necessary to harmful)
A lot of founders operate in survival mode (sometimes quite literally) when starting a company. Transitioning out of survival mode once the company has enough momentum and traction to be able to survive on its own is easier said than done, most often (I think) because it’s difficult for founders to identify the exact point in time where things will and can go on without them which is often years after the company was founded
Edit: Side note, why is this on Wikipedia? It would be a great blog post. But really Wikipedia?
Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz described their ideal candidate in a single word: "egomaniacal." Founding partner Kupor said "The really successful entrepreneurs are able to willfully suspend disbelief, but then also figure out a way to not make themselves impossible to deal with."
> Side note, why is this on Wikipedia?
I think there are enough papers for the topic to be on Wikipedia, although it could do with some balance.
This is the 'honeymoon' phase.
However once things start picking up and the company is becoming less and less of a startup the they can be the greatest hindrance to achieving the 'next' level as an organization. They are usually set against formality and structure, which they perceive as as impediment to attaining their vision.
This is the 'old ball and chain' phase.
Of course, this is from my direct experience.
Many founders are successful precisely because they micromanage every detail of the product and execution, leaving no room for inefficiencies. As you said, this can be effective for getting things off the ground.
However, past a certain scale the micromanagement physically cannot work. There aren’t enough hours in a week for the CEO to have a hand in every significant decision on every team.
Good CEOs learn how to scale themselves, build trusted org structures, delegate responsibility, and focus the CEO on the things that matter most.
However, many founders just don’t enjoy this. They founded a company not because they loved sitting at the top of an org structure, delegating all of the fun work to middle managers. They liked being in the thick of it, fighting fires and calling shots. So that’s what they cling to, to the detriment of the company.
Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Having a micromanaging founder at the helm of the company extends the micromanagement to every level, with an added multiplier of the micromanager having absolute control over the company. There is no pushing back, no changing teams to escape it. You either commit to the micromanagement, or you leave the company.
I'm all for move fast and break things (sometimes), but this cowboy, shoot from the hip was unsustainable, we simply could not keep up with developing new features and shipping them ad-hoc with barely any support.
A lot of burnout in that org also.
Contrast: New / outside CEO syndrome.
Any organizational design has problems. Founders tend to be better than replacements, but far from universally.
I've worked in two organizations with "Founder's Syndrome." In one, it was hyper-destructive in much the way described. In one, it lead to a lot of soft issues (we felt micromanaged), but ultimately, really good technology which won in the market.
That's why I hate these stereotypes.
Apple went to shit when Steve Jobs was pushed out and only recovered when he came back. This is the worst example if you want to claim that excessive founder control is a negative thing.
How's that for a claim?
It doesn't make for good headlines, but I think it's honest.
I have worked with Founders who think they are Steve Jobs and want to control everything. It turns out, it’s really hard to prioritize. The founder CEO I worked had his hands in many departments. It would take him months to make a decision because of the sheer number of decisions. The org turned toxic because even though we knew it was the wrong decision, things went ahead. A lot of projects were “special CEO projects” to stroke his ego. PRs were pushed with “because the CEO wants it tomorrow, we’re gonna hack this in. Don’t have time for tests”.
Needless to say a competitor startup that started 5 years late captured a big part of the market.
Open source is, if anything, even more likely to suffer negative effects. And less likely to properly report or handle them, because even the bare minimum profit motive isn't there as a monitor.
(In terms of companies, by the way, Epic Systems - that is, the EHR company, not the game company - and Valve Software are two good, little-talked-about examples of this problem.)
I think that is misguided opinion. Linus is mostly correct (the opposite of Founders Syndrome). He obviously has great interpersonal skills, otherwise Linux would not hold together as a team, and it would be forked by groups within. Even his “rants” seem well reasoned and purposeful (not unguided anger), and he changed his behaviour when pressured by some of those he works with: a sign of maturity and definitely not Founder’s Syndrome (has he kept their support?). A “BDFL” maintains their position by people voting with their time and effort, and support is withdrawn if the BDFL lacks the emotional skills or technical “taste” to maintain group cohesion.
This may come across as aggro, but I just mean that people culturally self-sort into the groups they vibe with the best.
The pudding is judged by its taste. To me it seems that Linus manages to crunch out great results. His communication style makes headlines and many people don't like it, but can it be proven that it actually makes the results worse? There are loads of open source projects and I'm not convinved that having superior communication style is the key to having a succesfull project.
This is meant to sound negative, but there are a lot of upsides to this. Design by committee, analysis paralysis, lack of agility, diffusion of responsibility and many more problems plague organizations that attempt to achieve the opposite of this "cowboy approach".
For instance, "Founder's Syndrome" would apply to Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm - as opposed to IBM, which is run "by the book". Most people don't even know who runs IBM, nor do they care about IBM products.
If you have a charismatic founder, you have to ride that wave, because it's a unique opportunity. Having somebody with the ability to "rally the troops" is invaluable. You can't just hire somebody to do that for you. If you have too many concerns about this, take your money (or your labor) elsewhere, but keep in mind that "playing it safe" is risky as well.
> I firmly believe that founders have a right to rule. This is because founders are the sorts of people who do not take power; they do not usurp power; and they do not inherit power. Instead, founders create their power from thin air where there was previously none. Founders are simply awesome people who make things happen; and as a result, they experience this phenomenon where power just materialises around them from the æther. It’s the truest and most noble form of power, and I feel it ought be embraced despotically.
>This is because founders are the sorts of people who do not take power; they do not usurp power; and they do not inherit power.
None of this is true. I'm sure we can all think of a good text book example that refutes each point made.
The point isn't that founders need to be removed from their company. The point is that micromanagement doesn't scale in any system, and startups are no exception.
At some point, founders need to learn how to delegate and build an org structure that scales. They can retain power, but they can't be micromanaging every decision of every team.
I mean, she just seems to be bonkers, really; I wouldn't pay too much attention.
> "Hopefully, I'll live to see a day when all the muckraking progressive reporters/bloggers are sent to prisons"
I wouldn't take any advice on basically anything from this person.
Some companies do great with founders still in charge. (Stripe, AirBnB). Others realized their full potential after the founders stepped away (Google comes to mind). Either way, a founder should know when their time is up and think about what’s best for the organization.
The whole "company in name only" disease (without the heart, mind and soul of a founder) deserves its own label.
Plenty of founders learn how to scale their companies and delegate to an effective management structure.
This article is about founders who cling to the micromanagement structure that works when startups are small but fails when companies grow larger.
With that said, the requirements for an early startup are completely different. It can just be a collection of great people making independent decisions.
I could be persuaded of that, but all the great people and products seemed to have been created then.
(Also, I kinda read "Tesla Motors" between the lines)
It's just a bunch of moaning that sometimes founders have too much power inside organizations that they founded (imagine that).
And Founder's Syndrome is a bad name imho. That rather sounds like something you'd say when somebody keeps starting businesses because they can't stop being a founder and feel like they need to tackle each and every problem they encounter.
What's described in the Wikipedia article is imho not specific to founders, it's about cult-like leadership and disproportionate power due to weird voting rights setups and different share types.
My impression is that we'll notice it more in startups because they don't have the large and reliable power structure in place where these things don't become public, and their very nature of high-risk companies that are looking to go public puts them both more at risk for failing spectacularly and in the spot light.
Mostly financial news and medium articles.
If you have a predetermined view, it's easy to find evidence and sources to support. The hard things is looking at a bunch of different studies and then deciding on an interpretation.
This often happens when a displeased person is working in a said organization.
I've heard a lot of mediocre leaders express this same sentiment and I never understand it. It's such a tacit admission of incompetence on their end. This kind of smug, apathetic, flippant response is a defense mechanism which gets in the way of confronting the real challenges and gravitational forces that conspire against successfully growing a healthy organization. You need mechanisms to grow past the Dunbar number, and they'll never work if a critical mass of the organization (including, of course, its leadership) is willing to indulge empty platitudes like this.
I'll give you a hint: who hired the displeased person working in said organization? If they aren't a good match for the organization, whose bright idea was it to hire them in the first place? If they are a good match, whose bright idea was it to create an organizational structure that doesn't set them up for success? There may be other management and executive layers present, but if and when those fail, responsibility ultimately trickles back up to the origin, the founder.
I imagine some employees have left my company, too, because they were unhappy with the way I ran things. However, I have never resorted to lies and making promises I never meant to keep.
But, you'll make it a lot harder on yourself if you blame it on others when they leave. It will mean that if there is a systematic problem with the company, you will have shirked responsibility of dealing with it and are putting everyone else who works at the company at risk. Is that something you're willing to do? Is rectifying it something you are equipped to do?
Sometimes the discontent seems to be more on personal level, eg. founder/owner is not happy with the employee, the employee is not happy with the founder but still stays at the organisation. Often it would just make more sense to leave for another company.
Edit: assuming here with discontent is not constructive criticism but more like general complaining without offering reasonable solutions.